by Valeh Nazemoff

6 competitive IT strategy tips from state government CIOs and CxOs

Jun 03, 2016
Business IT AlignmentCIOCollaboration Software

Even CxOs of state and local governments must stay competitive. But how can IT departments compete amidst budget constraints and red tape? Learn six mindful takeaways to be competitively strategic, even in tough conditions.

Even CxOs of state and local governments must stay competitive. But how can IT departments compete amongst budget constraints and red tape? Here are 6 mindful takeaways to be competitively strategic, even in tough conditions.

Have good posture

Smartphones are Thom Guertin’s main competition. As Rhode Island’s Chief Digital Officer, he knows that RI residents expect to transact with state government as easily as with large corporations. “When you start to get into health insurance and benefit programs, it can never be that simple, unfortunately. That’s our real challenge, to be able to deal with…expectations and how we answer them,” Guertin shared. “It is the realization of helping [the audience] understand the complexity and what it takes to deliver on something large like that.”

Mark Racine, CIO of Boston public schools, “competes” with home technology networks. The community doesn’t understand why wiring schools isn’t as simple as wiring homes. His response is, “I sell my services to our principals and to our teachers. It’s a much smaller group… They are the core of my business…they are the decision-makers…in their school or in their classroom.”

Who is your competition? Who is your audience? Understand that it’s not about you, it’s about them. Posture your message accurately – explain why the technology matters and to whom.

Position your messaging

Technologists must weave stories that help stakeholders understand how IT personally impacts them and their data.

Guertin has two core audiences; Rhode Islanders who expect excellent service and the 50 government agencies who must buy in to the importance of technology. Guertin must position his messages uniquely for each audience and agency, describing how they will be impacted. It’s all about telling the right story. The way you position your message on how well you respond to their concerns impacts your results.

Balance priorities

IT is at the center of constant requests from high-level stakeholders. Trying to be all things to all people results in disaster. How can IT achieve balance?

It’s important to divide resources into two categories; initiatives that are either efficient or effective.

Racine advocates “…partitioning of resources. Certain resource(s) will absolutely go toward the strategy initiatives that are high visibility… But we can’t assign all the resources to them. Every day, there are priorities outside our control, [that] drive too much of our decisions.” Within his large school system, Racine balances many competing priorities, some he can and can’t control; such as state and federal requirements, students, and the media.

How does he adjust? “There’s a section of my department where I say, ‘This is my strategy crew.’…That’s actually allowed me to section off our innovative work from our… reactive work.”

It doesn’t matter how the partitions are labelled, as long as resources are prioritized into two buckets of efficient and effective initiatives; each with clear definitions, roles, and responsibilities.

Converse transparently

If technology isn’t part of the business dialogue with stakeholders from the start, there’s a problem. CIOs must be at the table and able to speak freely.

Guertin shares, “It’s pretty much every day I hear from someone, ‘This is really important to the governor.’ I tell them, ‘You may want this in Labor and Training, but in the Department of Education, these are the big things I’m working on [for them].’ They understand it.” Conveying competing priorities between groups helps immensely. “It’s a big part to be able to say, ‘Can we all agree this is really the important [item] to put up the priority chain?’” Guertin adds.

According to Racine, “To be able to help [stakeholders] and for them to help me, being transparent with them…without being overwhelming or confusing…has been…very helpful. Transparency is key because you’re going to have competing interests, and being able to be transparent about…priorities…is the only way those competing interests will ever be able to understand each other. Being transparent with everything that’s going on in my department and my budget… has helped us get through some really tough issues.”

Use internal SLAs

Internal Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are key in a CIO’s competitive strategy. How can anyone be accountable when there is no way to measure the success of a particular spend?

Guertin comments, “Certainly in this day and age…performance metrics and KPIs, are big parts…in how we measure the success of a lot of these programs and projects. Like wait times at the DMV. Very tangible measures of success. We can find those KPIs in a number of different areas. You hold your vendors accountable and you have to hold those [internal] businesses accountable as well.”


Loop back through the process and make refinements. CIOs know the importance of beta testing a new system to obtain and then implement feedback to make an even better solution.

Whether you’re the CIO of a school, a state government, or a business of any size, using these tips will help you better tell your story, allocate your resources, garner buy-in and, most of all, stay competitive.